This is a letter penned in response to a Daily Maverick piece. Needless to say it is unlikely to get published by the online daily due to editorial restrictions on the Palestine-Israel debate. DRL
That Israel traded with apartheid South Africa is well known. But the extent of it, and even more the nature of it, have been shrouded in mystery and controversy until now. Your correspondents, Hennie Van Vuuren and Anine Kriegler, have provided an excellent piece relating recently declassified information on the activities of one Ariel Sharon.
As an activist on the receiving end of apartheid dirty tricks on campus during this tragic period, under the state of emergency, I rejected Zionist Israel and the Peres government. The association of PW Botha and General Magnus Malan with Israel’s defense minister Ariel Sharon was enough motivation for a course of action which resulted in solidarity with the Palestinian people and support of the struggle against Zionism.
In hindsight, and following the rise of Anti-Semitism amongst the left in South Africa, (the most recent incident involving Dubul i’Juda/Shoot the Jew refers), it is plain to see that the intricacies of the Middle East problem require a far broader view than the narrow mandate of campus politics, and thus the boundaries of this debate are under constant re-evaluation.
Prior to the Six-Day War, Israel was a darling of the international left: socialist idealists like David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir vocally opposed apartheid and built alliances with black leaders in newly independent African nations. South Africa, for its part, was controlled by a regime of Afrikaner nationalists who had enthusiastically supported Hitler during World War II.
But after Israel’s occupation of disputed Palestinian territories in 1967, (Jordan had occupied the West Bank from 1948-1967 while Egypt had occupied the Gaza strip during the same period) the country found itself estranged from former allies and threatened anew by old enemies. As both Israel and South Africa became international pariahs, their covert military relationship blossomed: they exchanged billions of dollars’ worth of extremely sensitive material, including nuclear technology, boosting Israel’s sagging economy and strengthening the beleaguered apartheid regime.
There are no excuses for this sequence of events. However, less well-known is the manner in which Israel’s policy towards South Africa changed as a result of pressure from refusenik Jewish students, those of us who were opposed to the apartheid regime. This important part of the puzzle is often left out of the equation in a one-sided debate that is usually characterised by a lack of academic freedom. The recent problems experienced at Rhodes university and elsewhere spring to mind
It is therefore important to note that Israel and South Africa severed economic and military ties to a remarkable extant during the late 80s. Benjamin Pogrund, the deputy editor of the Rand Daily Mail has observed a number of predicaments in Israel’s position until the moment in March 1987 when the Israeli cabinet voted to “refrain from new undertakings, between Israel and South Africa, in the realm of defense.” In September of that year the Israeli cabinet issued a comprehensive sanctions package, including no new investments in South Africa and no promotion of tourism
These sanctions against the apartheid government are also recorded by the Chicago Tribune since Peres accompanied his announcement with a strong condemnation of South Africa`s racist system:
“There is no room for discrimination, whether it`s called apartheid or any other name,“ Peres said. “We repeat that we express our denunciation of the system of apartheid. The Jewish outlook is that every man was born in the image of God and created equal.“
In any debate, there are opposing sides. It is worthwhile recalling such positions and especially these prescient words, which surely have a special resonance now that the issue of South Africa’s relationship to Israel is being re-examined — If only to remind us as well as the current Likud government of our obligations and duties to the rest of the world.
David Robert Lewis